Warming up on stage, San Antonio “punk, rock y roll” band Piñata Protest seemed completely unaware they’d been sandwiched on the bill between Engaged in Mutilating and HOD, two of San Antonio’s heaviest grind-core bands. It was just a typical spring night in San Antonio: Crock-pot humid, with a metal soundtrack coming from somewhere. But after the gig, the band admitted they weren’t feeling as comfortable as they looked.
“This is fucking metal-heads and shit,” exclaimed singer and accordionist Álvaro del Norte. He and his band mates erupted into laughter. “Not to say there’s anything wrong with that!” More laughs.
“But `the audience` are expecting a fucking brutal show. It’s fucking Brujeria `headlining`, so they’re expecting some hard-ass motherfucking shit. And here we are like …”
He proceeded to mime playing his accordion like a hyper Steve Urkel, complete with rapid, syncopated “deet-deet-deet” sounds.
So PP threw their heaviest songs on the set and hoped for the best. If they felt out of place, they didn’t show it. Del Norte just squeezed a riff to check the sound and drew cheers. He looked to the crowd, narrowed his eyes, and nodded the way a hip tio might to his young sobrinos: “Lone Stars on me as soon as your mom leaves,” he could have said. Then he and bassist Omar Nambo, drummer J.J. Martinez, and guitarist Manny Garcia burst into some of the tightest punk rock coming out of San Antonio. Good thing we’ll have their debut record Plethora, out on April 20, to blast while the band is on the road.
“We’re not limited to any one style,” del Norte said after the show. “The main influence is going to be punk rock and accordion music from Mexico or South Texas, but we all love everything.”
The band revealed this diversity mid-set, when they slid into “Scene Unseen,” one of Plethora’s milder tunes. With its swinging baseline and reggae-tinged guitar lead, the track recalls the convergent alt-rock crossover hits of SoCal circa 1996. It’s as if Piñata Protest traded in Sublime’s trombone for del Norte’s accordion. The change of pace was daring, and not just because the band spent half the set as SA’s best answer to Reverend Horton Heat.
“We’ve made up lies to make you happy,” sang del Norte, describing how the song’s subject became a musician for all the wrong reasons.
But after hearing Plethora you’ll think the band deserves to get rich. After five years and several line-up changes (del Norte is the only founding member left), Piñata Protest has paid dues aplenty, making Plethora’s fast, heavy, campy fun all the more welcome. It’s San Antonio’s drinking music. But as the band’s name implies (drawn out of a sombrero, no less!), there’s politicized diatribe in del Norte’s screaming verses.
“When all the world involves a price, you can be a winner at the game of life,” he sings on “Suckcess.”
Elsewhere, a bullfighter serves as a metaphor for anyone who thrives at the expense of enlightenment (“Matador”), and the band professes their dedication for drunken stupidity on “Cantina.” Then there are the “love” songs. The sarcastic sound of “Jackeee” seems at odds with its message of looking within for answers. And “Love Taco” is a romantic waltz, complete with Del Norte’s accordion set to “panty-melt.” Too bad it’s a song about refusing to change for a lover.
The band can subvert the punk formula, but then they bend their sets to their audiences. Del Norte has the drive and vision, but he battled line-up changes for half a decade. The band has sick chops and chemistry, but their music can be dismissed as novelty. It’s no wonder that, in a Spinner interview, Del Norte admitted to a love of a certain pop-punk band (rhymes with Spleen Ray), before he asked the website to censor his statement. It’s fitting that del Norte mentioned finding solace in the most non-judgmental of fans.
“One of the things … that I find humbling or gratifying, is actually a lot of youngsters, middle-schoolers, and high-schoolers, really digging our stuff,” he said. “Of course, we want to continue this as long as we can.”
Not continuing didn’t seem like an option when our interview was interrupted by a promoter asking PP what they would charge to play a string of dates in El Valle. This, after the band was scolded by management for playing too long (the crowd kept demanding more songs). The same crowd that seemed bigger than it was when HOD took the stage. The crowd that sang every word to several songs PP has yet to release. Plethora, indeed. •
A. Coronado writes about media and politics at his blog: brutestomp.com/the-brute.